DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW

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For some of us, show season is a year-round activity. As I look out the window this morning (at sleet coming down, emergency vehicles whizzing by, lights and sirens blazing, and traffic on the highway at a crawl), I think of hauling to all those winter circuits. Sure, there are plenty to be found in warmer venues, if you can afford the trip, but what else should we be thinking about in winter months, that we wouldn’t normally during the rest of the year?

 

The plan-

Since deciding to go to a horse show at the last minute is more the exception than the rule, before you hit the road, you’ve probably already mapped out your route, especially if it’s a location you’ve shown at before. In the event of inclimate weather, have you considered whether your route is the safest for a truck and trailer, with thousands of pounds of precious cargo? Modern technology allows us to check weather, traffic, and road conditions with just a tap or two on a smart screen. You have all the apps, put them to work! Having a plan B is never a bad thing. If you’re taking a longer trip, consider a safe stopping point between your departure and arrival locations. The bottom line is this, having a car skid on black ice or fishtail in slushy streets is unsettling enough, but fairly recoverable. Once your whole rig loses traction, there’s a lot to get under control, safely, and in a hurry. Why take chances?

 

Planning ahead should also factor in driving slower and more cautiously. Test the brakes before attempting a full stop, give yourself plenty of room for turns, and you always have to consider those people you’re sharing the road with, who may or may not be driving as safely as you.

 

Whenever possible, don’t drive alone. If for no other reason than the pleasure of their company, a second person who’s comfortable handling the rig or your horses can be invaluable.

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The cargo-

The things we do to cater to our horse’s comfort in the other seasons, may need a little tweaking when the snow flies. They might be perfectly comfortable wearing full quilted blanket and hood, standing in a stall, but locked in a moving, metal box with other horses, regardless of the temperature outside, they might feel a little differently. Better to under-blanket than over, and cause them to be a sweaty mess by arrival. For longer trips, consider water stops for the same reason. Dehydration is common in cooler weather, simply because we aren’t thinking about it as much. Consider lining the trailer floor with sawdust/bedding. The rubber mats can build up condensation, making them slippery even for the most quiet of travelers. I’ve always been a proponent of shipping boots or wrapped legs in the trailer. All it takes is one little weight shift or accidental bump, and you could have a bigger problem by the time you pull in the showgrounds. A few minutes of prevention, can save you from a big vet bill.

 

Another tip I picked up from a fellow professional, is keeping a list of all horses, emergency contact numbers for you and them, and any special instructions, should disaster strike on the road, and you aren’t conscious to instruct emergency responders. Add anything you’d want a stranger to know, if you needed them to help you or your horses, and weren’t able to communicate it yourself. Update it for each trip, and keep it accessible. Keep stocked vet and medical kits in your rig as well, or all in one, since I know I’m not the only person who’s field-dressed her own injuries with Furizone and Vetwrap in a pinch!

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The rig-

Always give your truck and trailer a thorough once-over before any departure. If you’re unsure as to what, if any changes may need to be made, consult a trailer professional for advice. We had a motor home dealership near where I grew up, that proved to be a great resource when we had questions. Top off all the fluids, and keep an extra jug of washer fluid on hand. Find out if your car insurance company also covers your trailer (they may not), and if not, consider looking for additional coverage, like US Rider ( http://www.usrider.org/). It would also be smart to toss a snow shovel, some ice-melt, and maybe sand or kitty litter in the back of the truck. Sometimes getting out of trouble can actually be an easy fix, if you have the tools.

 

It might be a good time to look into a heavier-treaded tire or chains. If your truck doesn’t have day-time running lights, leave your regular lights on, even during daylight hours. Visibility is key. Additional strips of reflective material can be bought at your local truck stop, if your trailer doesn’t have enough marking all the way around. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because your truck is four-wheel drive, you’re immortal. That only helps if you’re in heavy snow or mud. If you’re on ice, it doesn’t matter how many drive wheels you have.

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Ultimately, before you venture out in any less-than-ideal driving conditions, take a moment to decide just how important it is to you. Are those few extra points you might pick up, worth putting you and your horse’s safety at risk? Does that horse you just bought/sold really need to be delivered TODAY, or can it wait until the roads are clear again?

 

Just because you enjoy dashing through the snow, doesn’t guarantee your horse shares that opinion. Take everyone’s feelings into account, before heading out, and if you arrive at a winter show with an unhappy horse, make sure you know what’s got them all fuzzed up, even if it’s you, don’t punish them for not sharing your enthusiasm.

A CAVALRY CHARGE ON PTSD

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Two movies have been released recently, both are based on books written by their subjects, and both I’ve read, though I’ve only had the opportunity to see one of the movies so far. Both subjects suffer from PTSD, as a result of their military service, and war-time experiences. The movies are “Unbroken,” the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II veteran, who just passed away in July 2014, and “American Sniper,” the story of Chris Kyle, an Iraq War Veteran, who was allegedly killed in February 2013 by another veteran, also suffering from PTSD, whom he’d been trying to help.

Awareness of PTSD, and similar disorders, grows exponentially every year, but the treatment options available struggle to keep pace. I’ve done a little research on the subject, and didn’t see where the concept was first introduced, of equine assisted therapy programs. I was happy to see however, how many of them come up in a general search online. My first introduction to such a program, was learning of Saratoga WarHorse (www.saratogawarhorse.com). Now, there are similar programs all over the country, as well as programs dedicated to training people for this kind of vocation, also becoming more and more common and accessible.

www.eagala.org Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association , http://e3assoc.org Equine Experiential Education Association, and http://www.pathintl.org PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International, are three programs, offering training catering towards those with mental health training backgrounds, equine backgrounds, and/or both. These organizations are non-profits, who offer clinics, training, and certification, to help prepare you for work with both veterans and children suffering from mental or physical health challenges.

Saratoga WarHorse, based out of Saratoga Springs, NY, and now with a satellite location in Aiken, SC, pairs our war veterans, with off-track race horses. I think what appealed to me the most was how their program was helping give (maybe) a sense of new purpose to souls who (might) feel as though their lives were otherwise invalid, of the two and four-legged variety. I love the idea of helping our veterans, and if we can do it helping horses, I’m all in! Some of the other amazing-sounding programs I came across were: www.horseshelpingheroesproject.com, out of Smithfield, VA, www.horses4heroes.org, with many locations in California and Nevada, http://www.operationsilverspurs.org, in Conifer, CO, and www.unbridledwarriors.org, out of Green Cove Springs, FL. All offer supervised opportunities for our veterans to interact with horses, on the ground, and in the saddle (if they choose), at no cost to the veterans. All they have to do, is be willing to try.

Having no personal experience with PTSD to draw from, and only limited exposure to it, I can only try to wrap my head around what it might be like to live with every day. Based on the descriptions in the books, of how it affects your life, and the variety of ways it manifests itself, it seems to me, that simply being willing to take a step forward out of the darkness, it actually a giant step in the right direction. I think as Americans in general, we tend to thrive on guilt. We’ve gotten really good at making ourselves feel bad, for feeling bad, and I can’t help but think, that must play a part in how our veterans feel. As an example, say you’re on a diet, and you’ve been doing well, but one day you cannot say no to a cookie. You could enjoy it, and go on about life, stepping right back on track, but instead, you beat yourself up over it. You either tell yourself, “that was terrible, now I’m going to have to go to the gym TWICE tomorrow to make up for it,” or even worse, “that was terrible, and now my whole diet is shot. I may as well eat the rest of the bag!” My point being, if you already feel bad about something, is compounding it by kicking yourself while you’re already down really going to help? Probably not.

It’s like we’ve become a nation of people who refuse to give ourselves permission to feel, and be. If we have a bad day, we feel guilty for feeling bad, and allow it to spiral into something far worse. That’s something we can learn from horses, and part of why I’m sure they’re being used as part of the recovery process. Horses don’t have the ability to sit around and feel bad for themselves. If something terrible happens, they still breathe in and out, the sun still sets and rises again the next day, they carry on in spite of it. Maybe today was a terrible day, okay then, we’ll just try again tomorrow. I think part of their benefit is also their size. When we’re kids, we have our parents to hold on to when we feel frightened, sad, or angry. There’s something soothing about being enveloped by a larger, caring being. Once we’re adults, it’s hard to come up with someone who can produce that same feeling, but how about a 1,000 pound animal? Nothing beats a horse hug, as far as I’m concerned! During difficult days in my life, I cried on my horse’s shoulder, or threw my arms around his neck, it was exactly what I needed, something bigger than me, and my problems. Horses never judge, they wait patiently for you, they listen without interruption… They really are amazing therapists.

I’m so happy to see the Veterans Administration embracing these programs, and all that they offer. If you happen to be a veteran, or know of one in need of assistance, please click on this link:

http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/Reining-In-PTSD-With-Equestrian-Therapy.asp

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*I should add, that as I’m just learning about these organizations, I’m sure that there are many more I haven’t mentioned, and plenty that I don’t know about PTSD, veterans, abused children, or children with special needs. By no means am I trying to advocate any one program, nor am I deliberately excluding any. My only desire was to bring light to a topic, and to hopefully encourage you to investigate further. I would also encourage anyone who knows of programs to feel free to add them in comments. My only request would be to please not use my blog as a vehicle to share any political views, which I understand people may have. If you have a strong feeling about our military or government, I’d encourage you to please share that in your own blog.

EVERY STORY BEGINS WITH ONE WORD

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Since before I could read, I’ve loved the written word. My entire life, I’ve been a voracious reader, much like my dad. We share a similar interest in historical books, he’s particularly fond of anything to do with the Civil War. All four of dad’s brothers are also readers, and devout history-buffs of their own eras of interest. I even remember them talking about one brother who would read encyclopedias for fun. Remember those? Before Wikipedia?

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Seeing the previews for the new Paddington Bear movie got me thinking about all the books I loved as a kid (truth be told, if I still had them, I’d probably still be reading them!). Then, and now, I loved a good series. Thank goodness for authors like Walter Farley (the Black Stallion series), Bonnie Bryant (The Saddle Club series), and C.W. Anderson (Billy and Blaze series). They captured my interest, and held it through every chapter of every book, leaving me desperate for the next. In part, I now can blame them, and my friend, Karah, for the sleepless weekend in search of the third book of the Twilight series, after Karah convinced me to read the first two that she’d lent to me.

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It wasn’t just horse books that drew me in, I loved anything to do with animals, especially when they interacted like humans. Cue the Sweet Pickles books, and the Get-Along Gang. I wore out the vinyl’s in all my Disney “books on record.” The Fox and the Hound was a favorite, and possibly the beginning of my lifelong connection to Beagles?

I’ve often wondered, if the way I connected to those characters, and my stuffed animals, should have been an indicator as to who I would grow up to be. I still connect with the characters in the books I read, whatever happens to them, happens to me, whether they’re celebrating or suffering, I match them, emotional step for step. When I was younger and playing with my stuffed animals, I always imagined they had feelings, just like me. They felt bad if I played with others, instead of them. I worried for their safety when they took a bath (in mom’s washing machine). We all understood each other though, and slept peacefully together every night, before waking to a new day’s adventures.

As I work on my (first ever) manuscript, though I’m telling it from an adult’s point of view, I do it in the hope that people of all ages will read it, and understand how I felt, or what I experienced, in the same way I did.

What’s funny is, a therapist I went to a while ago, had commented a few times on my being deeply empathetic. When I would share things going on in my life, or the lives of those around me, and how I sometimes instinctively knew what would happen, before it happened, that was the explanation he offered. I, apparently, am an individual who is emotionally connected to everything and everyone around me, which can almost give me a sense of being “sighted.” I credit all those fuzzy little animals, with their unseeing glass eyes. The Paddington’s, the Black Beauty’s, the variety of talking animals in every Disney movie, they’ve all helped shape me.

It makes me sad to see people who don’t read, or don’t encourage their kids to. My boyfriend isn’t a reader, but his son will tear up anything about baseball, or military life. He loves books about players and people in history. When he took drum lessons, his first instructor did a great job of introducing him to classics, which got him reading about old Jazz and Blues musicians. He regularly checks out books from the library on old baseball players, and can recite facts about them as though he knew them personally. As he’s developed his interest in the military, he’s graduated on to books about the different wars America has been involved in, he’s reading “American Sniper” now, and told me all about Chris Kyle over lunch one day. I couldn’t be more proud of that. Here is a 13 year old, who will be able to carry on intelligent conversations when he enters his adult life. I told a mom at work the other day, I’ll put anything short of porn in front of him, if he’ll read it! It’s such a good hobby to have!

So this week’s entry is a bit more of a ramble, but I do it to remind us all, that it’s okay to look behind you, as long as you keep moving forward. All those animals and characters I loved once, gifted me with the love of reading and writing, which I’m able to share with you now. Hopefully sooner rather than later, I’ll be able to share with an even larger audience. The Black Stallion, My Little Ponies, and National Velvet’s The Pi, all showed me the importance of sharing your story, and their success proves that we horsey folk make up a pretty large audience, all of whom can appreciate a “pony tale.”

TRULY HAPPILY EVER AFTER

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It takes a lot to surprise me. In the last several years, I’ve developed a thicker hide, and experienced more than most people do (or hopefully have to) in a lifetime. When this story was brought to my attention, it reminded me of what felt like a similar story, one that ended much differently.

At a boarding/breeding barn where I’d kept Buddy, many years ago, a colt was born to their stud and one of their broodmares. Their band always produced offspring with the best dispositions, and this colt was no exception. Even as a youngster, he would be playful, but never aggressive. Once their colts & fillies were yearlings, they were turned out regularly with the rest of their horses for socializing. What actually happened to the colt, nobody actually saw, and the vets could only speculate, but from time to time, you’d catch something out of the corner of your eye, and stop to look closer. When you’d examine him up close, nothing appeared to be amiss, he was the same happy little guy all the time. You’d shake your head, assume you’d just imagined it, and go on about your day.

Over time, the mysterious sightings became more frequent, and to a wider audience. It was enough to make the call to the area’s Veterinary college, and make an appointment. He rode happily and quietly to the clinic, greeted every new person enthusiastically, and quickly became a favored patient. When they completed their exam, they found that the bizarre behavior was due to him having a broken neck. They guessed he’d probably done it playing in the field, and had learned how to carry himself, so it didn’t hurt. My heart still hurts remembering this. I don’t recall the details to be honest, but it was determined, that he was essentially a walking bomb, who would implode at any moment, and the kindest course of action, was to put him down. The school happened to have a study ongoing, that tied in to his condition, and asked, if they could keep him safely and comfortably, if they would be permitted to keep him though the study, then euthanize him afterwards, which the owners agreed to, and bid him a fond farewell. They told me, how everyone at the school gushed over him, how sweet he was, how well-behaved, and mostly, how sad the end of his life was.

With that memory in the back of my mind, when Bonny’s story came to my inbox, I was skeptical. I almost didn’t watch the video, I was afraid I’d see history repeat itself, only this time, right in front of me, but I’m glad I changed my mind, because this little mare beat the odds, and even through tears, brought such a smile to my face.

Hein Ungerer contacted me by commenting on one of my last posts, asking if I would be willing to share Bonny’s story with my readers. Here’s what he told me… “Bonny is a pony whose neck was broken when she was hit by a car. Her owner neglected to take in for veterinary care and left her neck to heal on its own. This left her with a severe disfigurement and although she copes well she can no longer pull a cart or give rides. So, her economic worth diminished and her chance of ending up at an abattoir was real. Her owner however had enough compassion for her to take her to a place of safety where she now lives. This is her story.”

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If you have questions, or would like to learn more, please feel free to contact Hein directly.

Hein Ungerer
followthespoor@gmail.com
http://www.youtube.com/followthespoor

 

You can also “like” Bonny’s new home on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/TomRoHavenForEquinesAndChildren?pnref=story

 

Call me a sucker, but I do love a happy ending!

GET PAID TO SHOP, NO, SERIOUSLY

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If you’re like me, you’re already looking forward to a tax return, which you’ll probably spend on stuff you need for the horses and other pets.  You’ve probably seen the commercials, where women (who apparently do nothing BUT shop online all day) say they’re getting thousands back by using ebates.com.  It’s true, but you have to know they’re spending a lot more to get that kind of a return.

From more of a “normal” online shopping perspective, you can still get money back, and what I just noticed, is the number of pet-related sites listed on ebates.com to shop from!  Barkbox, Horse.com, Cabelas, Gander Mountain, Bootbay.com, State Line Tack, and a bunch of Pet marts/lands/places/worlds.com, all offering a % of your bill, in return for shopping them through ebates.com.

It doesn’t cost you ANYTHING.  By signing up, you get a $10 gift card to a store of your choosing, and all you have to do is start every online shopping trip at their site.  You’re crazy not to!  Click the link below to get started, and happy shopping!  Buy me something pretty with all the money you get back!

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=QTVaIdcZ4YacNf9oTtIA6w%3D%3D&eeid=26471

YEAR OF THE HORSE, IT’S A WRAP!

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last year, asking what horses have to say (or at least, as “translated” by their handlers). In the upcoming year, I intend to continue that focus, because it’s important to remember that just because we don’t speak the same dialect, we still speak the same language, even if the message does at times, get lost in the translation.

This is the time of year when we tend to be reflective of the past, and curious about the future. Best laid plans aside, January often brings about resolution season. While I personally, haven’t participated in that tradition for many years, I respect those who choose to. Admittedly, the year I resolved to start working out, only to fake a job transfer to another city I knew there wasn’t a “sister” gym located in three months later, and gave them my friend’s phone number as my own, instructing him to tell anyone who called from there, I was in the shower, was probably the last (failed) attempt.

Many of us have probably resolved to do things like; go to the barn more, ride more, teach our horses new things, try new things ourselves, buy/sell/etc., start over, and so on… But, have you ever wondered if our four-legged masters (let’s be honest, we know who the real bosses are), have their own lists, and what they might entail?

1. I will remember that my pet human feeds me every day, usually around the same time, even when I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN they’ve forgotten (they never have), and try to not launch myself into a full-blown panic until the grain hits the pan.
2. Even though I hate getting my saddle zipped up, I will resolve to try to be less abrasive when my human is preparing me for a ride. I will try to stand quietly, and try to not hold my breath, so they think the saddle is nice and snug… until they swing a leg over and SURPRISE! (that really is funny, you know!)
3. Those buzzy clippy things are super annoying, and sometimes they pull my hair, but this year, I will try to be more tolerant, and understand that my human simply wants me to look nice. Beauty is pain, so if the other super models can do it, I suppose I can too.
4. I will allow new horses in my pasture with minimal complaint… Unless they touch my stuff… or eat my food… or smell funny. Okay, maybe not.
5. When my human takes me for rides in my car, to new places, I’ll try to do a better job of acting like I’ve actually been “off the farm” before, even if I’m scared. I will try to trust that my human isn’t going to abandon me.
6. I know when those people with the trucks full of torture implements come to the barn, they’re really there to help. That guy who bangs around on my feet probably isn’t the Devil, and the lady who sticks me all over with the pointy things probably isn’t trying to hurt me. They aren’t, right? I will try to conduct myself like more of a “grown up” when they visit, even if I don’t understand what they’re trying to do.
7. I will continue to call out for my mom/dad, from the moment I recognize the sound of their car in the drive, until they tuck me in at night. I think they like that J
8. When I see an unfamiliar rock, or leaf, or other terrifying object, I will do my best to keep it together, regardless of what it looks like from either direction… unless it attacks, then you’re on your own!
9. I’ll stop pretending I can’t see the barn dogs and stomping on their tails, or shoving them out of my way… maybe.
10. I will take every opportunity to show you, my human, how much I love you, and appreciate what you do to care for me. It may not be in a way that you understand, but know that you are mine, and I will faithfully serve you until I am no longer able.

Whether you resolve out loud, on social media, or not at all, my hope for you in 2015, is to have wonderful memories with your horses in your rear view, and many moments to look forward to straight ahead. Happy New Year!

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